Symptoms and Signs of Smoke Inhalation

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 7/29/2022

Doctor's Notes on Smoke Inhalation

Smoke inhalation is the number one cause of death related to fires. Smoke inhalation is breathing in the products of combustion during a fire. Smoke is made up of both heated particles and gases. Smoke inhalation can damage the body in different ways, including:

  • simple asphyxiation (lack of oxygen), 
  • chemical irritation, 
  • chemical asphyxiation, or 
  • a combination of these. 

Carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide are types of harmful chemicals produced in fires that interfere with the body’s use of oxygen and are termed chemical asphyxiants.

Signs and symptoms associated with smoke inhalation may include:

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • rapid breathing, 
  • black mucus production, 
  • irritation of the eyes, 
  • changes in skin color, 
  • confusion, 
  • fainting
  • nausea, and 
  • vomiting.

What Is the Treatment for Smoke Inhalation?

First aid for smoke inhalation includes removing the victim from the source and administration. CPR may be needed.

Medical treatment for smoke inhalation may include:

  • Administration of oxygen and ventilation support
  • Bronchoscopy to examine the airways and remove secretions and debris that may be blocking the airways
  • Hyperbaric oxygenation (delivery of oxygen in a compression chamber) may be appropriate for some victims including those with carbon monoxide poisoning


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.